THEMELESS THURSDAY… Arts Education

It’s Thursday, so ANYTHING can happen! Nothing is off limits – humor, education, music, book reviews, intriguing magazine articles, heck, maybe I’ll even toss in a game! But, my first installment in the “THEMELESS THURSDAY” column needs to be something special, something important, something I’m passionate about, and something that advances the overlying theme and purpose of this blog – to add “Life In My [Our] Years.” Those who know me had to anticipate that it would be something related to the arts. Well, you were correct!

A little bit of a background … I grew up in a middle to low (rather than the reverse) income family. Although my father had played the drums and enjoyed singing, he was out of the house much of the time during my earliest years, so my mom (who had a pretty singing voice in MY opinion, although she didn’t think so) was the parent I credit with introducing me to the arts. As I played with my dolls, she played soundtracks from all of the Broadway musicals. I probably was the only 3 year old in my town that could sing the entire scores from “Peter Pan,” “Oliver,” “The Sound of Music,” and, my favorite, “Carousel.” When other little girls were hoping to grow up to be a mommy or a nurse or a school teacher, I wanted to be Kate Smith! I sang “God Bless America” with more power than Kate ever could muster (anyway, relative to the lung capacity of a 3 year old!). I was the baby of 3 sisters, by enough, that, when my parents decided to invest in piano lessons for us, the teacher was willing to take on my older sisters, but said that I was not old enough (he could have said I wasn’t TALL enough – I was only 4, couldn’t reach my feet to the floor and my hands to the keyboard at the same time, and had VERY tiny little fingers). My mom persisted, and got him to agree to take me as a student if she could teach me how to read music. She purchased a little electric squeak-box of a piano, truly a toy, and, although she, herself, did not know how to read music or play, she sat with me and the play-by-numbers guide and taught me how to read music and play little nursery-rhyme songs. The teacher agreed to take me on, and sat in our living room with me and my 2 sisters for 3 hours a week, back-to-back, teaching us how to play piano. I often wonder how my mom survived listening to that plus the hours of practicing in those early days! Fast forward a few years, Mr. Jones left, my older sisters got bored and stopped taking lessons, and mom hired a new teacher, Dorothy Keller, to take on the unenviable task of trying to develop the next famous piano virtuoso out of a little midget. I took weekly, sometimes semi-weekly, lessons all the way through until I graduated from high school (most of which, I found out later, were a ‘gift’ to me by Mrs. Keller after my parents fell on hard times). I was in love with George Gershwin, played records (the big round vinyl ones!) of Arthur Rubinstein, Ferrante & Teicher, and, of course, The Beatles, and developed a powerful love for music, in general, to couple with my passion for musical theatre.

When I was growing up, the arts were held in high esteem and encouraged in public school. There was chorus, then choir, guitar classes, concert band, art classes, dance classes, drama department, and an AMAZING award-winning play production/musical theatre department led by an incredible and beloved teacher in high school. I continued that passion into college, majoring in theatre, then left to pursue a short, profitless career as a singer and actress. Although I ended up in a reality-based/financially stable field (law), I never lost that creative passion, continue to have a finger and a few toes in professional theatre and will always be an addicted devotee and aficionado of theatre, ballet, and music.

SO…. now that I’ve turned this into ‘Throwback Thursday,’ rambling endlessly about ME, let’s get on with the point of this column!

I don’t know that anyone ever connected the dots between education in the arts and development of analytical thinking, teamwork, motivation and self-discipline back in the 60s and 70s when art/music/theatre/modern dance were staples of many public school curricula, but I am certain that I, for one, benefited tremendously from these programs. Sadly, starting in the late 70s, and really gaining (losing?) steam since, the crucial role that arts education plays in a child’s overall development as a student and a citizen of the world has taken an enormous hit. The blame fell on ‘budget cuts,’ but the cost has been staggering. Arts education has been dubbed “a luxury” by many, and an “inconvenience” by working parents, but, for me, it’s every bit as important as the core subjects. A strong and diverse arts education builds motor skills, language skills, problem solving and critical thinking, visual learning, inventiveness, cultural awareness, and a high level of academic performance. As was opined by a report published by the National Endowment for the Arts (which, by the way, is a recognized non-profit who accepts donations and uses them very wisely in promoting arts education and development, so PLEASE support them), “[t]he great works of art provide guideposts to cultural literacy.” They observed that ‘arts education also fosters creativity and teaches effective communication,’ adding that ‘another purpose of arts education is to provide tools for critical assessment of what one reads, sees, and hears.’ It seems to me that our country, our world, which suffers from a lack of compassion, understanding, culturalism and civility could greatly benefit, as a whole, if its citizenry developed those skills and appreciations.

If your child’s or grandchild’s school no longer can ‘afford’ to offer arts education, please make sure to obtain it through other sources, like, for instance …. look what I found in my email yesterday (probably spurring on this column) …. American Ballet Theatre (ABT) (yes, THAT ABT, my favorite ballet company, the one that is the current ‘home’ of Misty Copeland) is offering Ballet classes in Orange County, California (the announcement was that the space for ages 3-8 was filling up quickly – warms my heart)!

**Be sure to watch the video – there are some adorable moments as well as a lot of information about this program and the passion of the children who participate in it.**

https://www.scfta.org/Engage-and-Learn/ABT-William-J-Gillespie-Dance-School/Overview.aspx

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